Lions’ Spring Is Here: Practice for SWAC champions starts Monday

Monte Coleman usually faces a set of questions going into spring football drills at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. But one question has been lingering for an unusually long time: When will he sign a new contract?

It was believed at first a renewal of his original five-year deal would be completed soon after the Golden Lions won the SWAC championship, but more than three months have passed since the end of the season and, still, no new deal is in place.

“I think both sides are anxious to get the deal done,” Coleman said Friday. “I got a proposed contract this week. Me and my agent responded this week, so we’re waiting to hear back from (the university).”

Coleman, however, has gone about business as usual, working under a gentleman’s agreement with the university, and is set to begin his sixth spring camp with the Golden Lions on Monday. UAPB will hold 15 practices between Monday and April 27, when the Black and Gold spring game is scheduled.

They likely will work out inside Golden Lion Stadium, where the natural turf has a good drainage system, necessary for the recent wet weather that’s hit Pine Bluff.

Coleman, who’s 29-27 overall at UAPB, said he thinks his vibes going into this spring camp are the same as they were this time last year.

“The team we have on the field is very comparable to the team we had last spring,” Coleman said.

He landed 17 announced signees during the offseason, two of whom — North Carolina Prep alumnus Brandon Duncan and Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College product Lawrence Henderson — are already enrolled at UAPB and will participate in spring drills.

“Both of those guys have showed they have the same attitude as the guys we’ve lost,” Coleman said. “I think we moved up a little bit better in the quarterback position, having Duncan behind Ben at this point, and definitely on the defensive line after losing Brandon Thurmond with Henderson coming in. He’s going to be a mainstay for us.”

Henderson, a 6-2, 270-pound defensive tackle from Houston, is expected to fill the void left by graduating SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Thurmond. Duncan, a 6-foot-3, 205-pounder originally from Roosevelt, N.Y., is the sole backup quarterback for spring camp since rising senior T.Q. Mims moved back to the secondary and William Dunn exhausted his eligibility.

But Anderson, the first-team All-SWAC quarterback going into his redshirt junior season, isn’t expected to lose his starting job.

“I think he’s just going to be Ben,” Coleman said, asked what he thinks he’ll see out of Anderson in the spring. “He’s got the right attitude, he’s shown leadership ability with the offense and as a team leader, and I think he’s just going to be Ben. The thing we were blessed with is that Ben stayed healthy for all 12 games (last year). We didn’t have to pull him for health reasons. That’s what we’re praying for this year, that he can stay healthy.”

And staying healthy, as usual, is Coleman’s main goal for spring and preseason camps.

Yet a more pressing question for this spring is: How will the Lions replenish their offensive and defensive lines? They’ve lost five off the offensive line, including NFL Combine headliner Terron Armstead, and two off their four-man defensive front, including Thurmond, who was the NCAA’s sack leader in 2012.

In all, UAPB has lost five players off each side of the ball. But in the midst of what’s been a busy offseason for Coleman, the coach is pleased with how his current Lions have progressed since December’s SWAC championship victory.

“I think we’re right where we were this time last year, maybe a little bit better,” Coleman said. “The guys have really put out. We’ve had nine weeks of winter conditioning, and it’s been a good nine weeks. Started off a little sluggish coming back from December and kicking it off at the end of January, but for the last three months, it’s been very consistent. The guys are working real hard.”

UAPB’s spring football practice dates

• Practice dates are this Monday-Friday, April 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 25 and 27. Scrimmages are scheduled for this Friday and April 13. The Black and Gold game is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 27. Dates are subject to change based on weather conditions.

• Practice for all other dates begins at 3:30 p.m. and will be held either inside Golden Lion Stadium or the practice field behind the visitors’ bleachers of the stadium.